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10 women to watch at Unbound Gravel

An incredibly deep field with one notable absence.

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The pro field at Unbound Gravel continues to deepen, and the women’s race in 2022 will be more competitive than ever.

It will also be characterized by absence, as riders line up without Mo Wilson, who before her death was a guaranteed favorite for the 200-mile race.

Some 50 or so of the pros are part of the Life Time Grand Prix Series, with Sofia Gomez Villafañe leading the standings after Wilson’s death. Many will be racing Unbound for the first time, and nearly every one named the iconic gravel race as a target.

Here are 10 women to watch on Saturday.

Lauren De CrescenzoWinning Unbound Gravel in 2021 changed Lauren De Crescenzo’s life, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t after victory again. After last season, the 31-year-old put together a unique 2022 racing plan, which included winning in Kansas again, along with some big goals on the road.

After riding solo in the wind for 60 miles to win The Mid South in March and overcoming a slew of mechanicals to win the Tour of the Gila in early May, De Crescenzo is right where she wants to be before another big day in the Flint Hills.

Sarah SturmThis will be Sturm’s first appearance at Unbound, and with that she has all the nerves. Although Sturm has experienced a rocky start to the season with some prolonged illness, she stormed to the win at the Gorge Gravel Grinder in April and earlier that month finished a very respectable 10th place at the Fuego 80k XC race at Sea Otter. Sturm excels over long distances and recently battled through heat and heartbreak to finish second at Gravel Locos.

Sarah Max – Max isn’t as well known to gravel fans as some of the other women on this list, but in 2019 she finished third at Unbound Gravel. It only takes one look at her 2022 results to know she’s a contender this year, as well.

Max narrowly missed the podium at BWR San Diego last month after WorldTour pro Tiffany Cromwell pipped her in the finishing chute. She was second to Sturm at the Gorge Gravel Grinder earlier in April.

Whitney Allison – Allison rode to an impressive fourth place at Unbound last year, and she recently told VeloNews that “from what the numbers say, I’m in a good place.”

While some of her pre-Unbound racing plans have been derailed — like the cancelation of the 125-mile Co2uT race in late April — Whitney recently won the Pony Xpress 160 in Trinidad, Colorado, riding alone for 92 of the 100 miles.

Sofia Gomez Villafañe – the former World Cup XC mountain biker has taken to gravel very quickly in the past year, garnering impressive wins in 2021 at the Crusher in the Tushar and BWR Asheville. This year, she’s on a tear.

In March, she and Haley Batten won the South African race, and in April, she was second at the Fuego 80k at Sea Otter. Last week, Gomez Villafañe rode to an extremely impressive first place at the Rule of Three. Her endurance-focused training in Tucson is paying major dividends, and she told VeloNews that she’s looking forward to lining up in Kansas.

“I have talked so much smack on that race before I was a gravel racer,” she said. ‘Look at these silly people doing this 200-mile race in Kansas.’ And now here I am, it’s a really big goal of the season.”

Alexis Skarda – Skarda, the current national marathon MTB champ, is also gearing up for her first Unbound Gravel. The Santa Cruz htSQD rider from Grand Junction, Colorado recently won the rugged Wild Horse Gravel and Grand Junction Rides & Vibes races back-to-back. She sits in second in the overall Grand Prix standings after finishing third at Sea Otter.

Amity RockwellUnbound is Rockwell’s race. The relative unknown rocketed to pro status after winning the event in 2019, and in 2021 she returned to take second. She’s currently sitting in 20th overall in the Life Time Grand Prix series.

Although Rockwell’s pre-race prep has recently been derailed by the death of Wilson, her good friend, the 29-year-old’s known ability to come alive well after 100 miles into a race will help her to the finish.

Emily NewsomThe EF Education-Tibco-SVB pro has had some of her best results on gravel. Newsom celebrated some big results in 2021, including first at Gravel Locos, second at Big Sugar Gravel, and third at Unbound. Earlier this month, she helped usher teammate Emma Langley to the overall win at the Joe Martin Stage Race. Newsom is another rider who thrives in long, hot conditions.

Kae Takeshita – A win at Unbound would be special for Takeshita, who has twice finished fourth in Emporia. The Chicago-based rider is known for finishing races in grueling conditions; she is a frequent podium finisher at Michigan’s Barry Roubaix.

Kaysee Armstrong In 2018, Armstrong finished fifth at Unbound. Last year, she was on her way to another top 10 finish before a crash derailed her. While Armstrong hasn’t been lining up at gravel races in 2022 like much of her fellow competitors, she has been doing something else that might be just as important: spending time racing MTBs (she raced the Cape Epic and won the Pisgah Stage Race in March) and also going on long bike adventures with friends.

Other riders to watch include Lauren Stephens, Isabel King, Kristen Legan, Holly Matthews, Rose Grant, Jess Cygan, Lea Davison, and Tess Amer.